Residency Revoked': It's like Something out of Kafka: In East Jerusalem, Four Representatives of Hamas Have Been Charged-Not with Terrorism, but with "Disloyalty"-By a State Whose Jurisdiction They Don't Recognise. Now They Have Been Ordered to Leave the City

By Platt, Edward | New Statesman (1996), August 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Residency Revoked': It's like Something out of Kafka: In East Jerusalem, Four Representatives of Hamas Have Been Charged-Not with Terrorism, but with "Disloyalty"-By a State Whose Jurisdiction They Don't Recognise. Now They Have Been Ordered to Leave the City


Platt, Edward, New Statesman (1996)


Day 33 of the sit-in at the Red Cross compound in East Jerusalem began much like those that preceded it. The three Hamas parliamentarians who have been charged with disloyalty to a state whose jurisdiction they do not recognise awoke at 6am in the meeting room on the second floor of the white stone building in the Sheikh Jarrah area. Ahmad Atoun, who was an imam before he began his brief political career, led the first prayers of the day. The men washed in a bucket, ate breakfast and at ten o'clock came down to the L-shaped courtyard that has become the site of their protest. The plain white walls of the courtyard are decorated with posters that explain their case: "Jerusalem Is An Occupied City." "We Will Stay Here For Ever." "We Will Not Leave Our Homes."

Photographs of the three bearded men, and a fourth colleague who is in prison, were superimposed on an image of the gold-plated Dome of the Rock- the holiest site in the city in which they were born, and from which the Israeli authorities are attempting to expel them.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When I arrived five minutes later, a television crew was setting up outside the green metal gates at the entrance to the courtyard, and one of the teenage boys who attends to the men and their guests was updating the sign that keeps a tally of the length of their confinement. As the numerals changed from 32 to 33, Mohammed Totah, Khaled Abu Arafeh and Ahmad Atoun took their seats beneath the canopy where they would spend the day receiving guests. The chairs lined up against the walls in the traditional Arab manner are constantly in use, and sometimes the courtyard is full to overflowing: on Friday lunchtimes, an awning is erected in the street, and an imam says prayers to the assembled crowd. According to Red Cross officials, most of East Jerusalem society has passed through the courtyard. Three British peers -Jenny Tonge, Nazir Ahmed and Raymond Hylton--have been among the guests.

Despite the uncomfortable conditions in which they live, the three men at the centre of the protest were smartly dressed in pressed shirts and dark trousers. Until 2006, Mohammed Totah taught business administration at al-Quds University and Abu Arafeh was an engineer, while the preacher, Ahmad Atoun, worked for various Islamic charities. Yet their lack of experience did not prevent them from standing as candidates for the "Change and Reform" movement, as Hamas was called in the legislative elections held in the Palestinian territories in January 2006; if anything, it was an advantage, because the endemic corruption of the Palestinian Authority, which was dominated by Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, had turned the voters against the political elite. "People knew we were good Muslims and they trusted us," said Mohammed Totah, a tall and well-mannered man with thinning hair and a neatly trimmed beard.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Hamas, which was set up in the Gaza Strip in 1988, is known in the west for the crude, anti-Semitic rhetoric of its founding charter and for its terrorist activities. Its paramilitary wing has killed several hundred Israeli citizens, through the use of suicide bombers and other means, yet it also runs a network of charitable organisations in the Palestinian territories, and is respected for the even-handed way in which it distributes resources. In 2006, it won 44 per cent of the vote; Mohammed Totah and Ahmad Atoun won two of the 74 seats that gave it a majority in the 132-seat parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Abu Arafeh became minister for Jerusalem affairs.

"The world witnessed that we were democratically elected," Abu Arafeh said through his colleague Mohammed Totah, who speaks the best English of the three. But the men had little chance to implement their mandate. "The European Union said there must be democratic elections, and we must accept the results," says Mohammed Totah. "But afterwards, they said, 'No, we will not accept Hamas. …

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Residency Revoked': It's like Something out of Kafka: In East Jerusalem, Four Representatives of Hamas Have Been Charged-Not with Terrorism, but with "Disloyalty"-By a State Whose Jurisdiction They Don't Recognise. Now They Have Been Ordered to Leave the City
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